Tom has been wanting me to do a post on his Jeep work for a long time. I figured why not just let him take over the blog for a day. So without further ado, the rest of this is written by Tom. Enjoy the big dose of “Talks with Tom.”
I’m sure we have all read the story of how we found out about George. Unfortunately, the second half of the story is less romantic. Shortly after leaving the Fertility Clinic, the magic of downtown faded into 5:30 pm, Friday traffic, in downtown Nashville, on Valentine’s day. Even taking all of this into account, I was still having an exciting day. As we sat at a stoplight, I looked down a half mile of still cars. Then, I hear the beep. It is the soul crushing beep of the “CHECK GAUGES” alarm 90’s Jeep owners know all too well. Before we take this any further, you should get to know me and my beautiful 99 XJ limited. Maybe just understand the XJ as a whole.
One of the most reliable and rugged vehicles ever made is the Jeep Cherokee XJ. Not the Grand Cherokee, not the new Cherokee, the XJ, the original. In 1984, Jeep introduced a new, smaller SUV. The XJ sported a unibody frame that allowed it to be extremely light and flexible, but still be strong enough to handle serious trail riding. What followed was a legendary vehicle that would be in production until 2001. So why do I love it so much? The biggest reason is the 4.0 inline 6 motor. Most motors are made of steel or aluminum. When steel gets hot, it warps. This is what causes the common issue of cracked head gaskets. Aluminum is light, but cracks under pressure, requiring a new motor completely. The Jeep 4.0 is made of iron: minimal warping and cracking. What this means to me is that I can run it hard, climb rocks, drive through ice water, and run it full bore into mud that is waist deep and she will keep on ticking. Add in the outstanding drive train that is the NP242 transfer case and you have quite a formidable trail rig. Mine is lifted, with slightly bigger and more aggressive tires. When I said flexible, I meant it.
It truly is a testament to American quality in the 80’s and 90’s. It is an icon from a time when we built amazing things that lasted forever. Forever, you say? Yea, forever. I spend less on parts every year than some of you pay for insurance in a 60 day period. I do the work myself. That being said, she runs like a top at 226k miles. And before you go and think “But Tom, what about comfort”? I do have tons of room, A/C, and 6 way power seat. Did I mention they are heated seats? Well, they’re pretty awesome in the winter. Everything else you need to know about the XJ can be found in this short instructive video about it’s iconic influence.
Back to our story. Jeep owners as a whole know that, although not expensive, Jeeps require a good amount of maintenance. My Jeep had overheated before, but never this bad. As we sat in traffic, she jumped from 220 which is a bit high but still normal, to 250, and it happened quick. My biggest fear was that she would lock up in the middle of Friday traffic. It doesn’t help that people from the city can’t drive. Yea, I get it, you drive aggressive and think the urban landscape has turned you into a pro, but city folks can’t go a day without turning any downtown area into a soup sandwich. I wasn’t doing well. I made it out of the jam by doing what Jeep folks do, I went around. Stephanie navigated me to an Autozone. We arrived just in time for the motor to shut its self down. First thought, thermostat. But, if you’re smart, you were thinking that too. So we spent our magical night, our first day preggers, in the parking lot of an auto parts store putting in a new thermostat. Not only was it freezing rain, but we were also in less than admirable part of town. When I asked the parts clerk how dangerous the location was, he said “Not bad, maybe 8 out of 10.” Whatever, not Afghanistan. I cruised into that McDonald’s in shorts and flip flops like I owned the place.
Long story short, over the next few weeks I swapped out the belts, hoses, water pump, electric fan, fan clutch, and shroud. Thanks to some help from the folks at EBAY, I did it on the cheap side. Despite my best efforts, I still found myself overheating regularly. The time came for a new radiator. Rather than the half plastic single core radiator that came original, I chose to go with an all aluminum radiator built for competitive trail rigs.
As with all projects, it SHOULD have gone easily. The first step is to remove, well, pretty much the whole front end.
Be prepared to be covered in oil. The Jeep radiators had an oil cooler built in. As luck would have it, the fittings were permanently affixed to the old one and didn’t come with the new one. As it was 8:30 at night, and I had to work the next day, this realization was accompanied with a lot of panic. I may have peed a little, but that’s none of you business. I’m kind of offended you even brought it up. I took the wife-mobile and the new radiator to the parts store and spent the next hour on the floor trying out brass fittings until I just decided to cut of the old metal oil lines and replace them with rubber ones. I finally made it home and, as luck would have it, I stripped out the inlet on the oil cooler twice before I finally got it to seat on the last few threads. After applying a liberal amount of gasket sealer, she was ready to install. The re-assembly went very quickly given that it was already midnight. I anxiously tightened the last few bolts, and then started my girl and waited for her to explode.
I hadn’t been able to drive more than a few miles without a problem in a long time. It was terrible seeing the Jeep I was so proud of, that I had put so much into, struggle to make it down the street. That Jeep really is a huge part of who I am. It represents me as a person. She is tough and capable. She adapts to every situation. For me, my Jeep is the best way to explain why Stephanie and I are so happy together. Yes, there are hard times. Things break. At times being a Jeep owner is very frustrating. But when you are committed, you do what you have to do. Simply put, a Jeep is a clear example of a time when you fixed things rather than threw them away. I grew up in a family that lives by this mantra. As I write this my dad is having a new carburetor put on the tiller he bought the year my parents got married. Both have been running strong for 38 years. With proper maintenance, of course.
As I cruised down the street, white knuckles on the wheel, I prayed that this time she was fixed. I ran light for a bit, and then parked to check. No leaks, no smoke, no overheating. As I ran her hard up and down the road, she stayed cool and ran smooth. Since then she runs like she’s new. The next week I drove the XJ to Nashville for the first time since Valentine’s Day and, this time at least, she ran like a champ. It just goes to show you. Sometimes things get difficult. Everything breaks at some point, and the things you care about fall apart in front of you. It’s those moments that, with a little know how and a commitment to what’s important to you, you can fix just about anything.